Filling out your FAFSA online is the first step
Do you want to go to college or career school, but worry that you can’t afford it? If so, you shouldn’t give up on your dreams. You could be eligible for financial aid to help pay your tuition.
To find out, the first step every student should take is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid—commonly known as FAFSA. This is an online application that you need to complete to see what kind of aid may be available to you.
Below is a guide for filling out the FAFSA online application. Submitting your FAFSA is completely free—it simply requires a few hours of your time. If anyone tries to charge you for submitting your FAFSA, you are on the wrong website. Be sure to use: https://fafsa.ed.gov/.
Once you are ready to fill out your application, the following steps can save you a little time and give you an idea of what to expect.
Step 1. Make sure you are eligible to apply
Before starting the application, make sure you are eligible by reading over the Basic Eligibility Criteria. If you are eligible, this does not automatically mean that you will receive aid. It just means that you are able to apply.
Step 2. Apply to one or more schools that you are interested in
You should apply to all the schools that interest you before filling out the FAFSA. (You still can list a school on your FAFSA that you haven’t applied to yet, but it’s better to apply to the school first.) You don’t have to formally choose a school yet—just list your possibilities on your FAFSA form. Applying to several schools is a good idea. You will want to keep your options open to see which school offers you the most aid.
Step 3. Set up your Federal Student Aid ID (FSA ID)
To get started on filling out the FAFSA, you will need to create your FSA ID. This process only takes a few minutes, and it will be your key to accessing your account. If you are a dependent (according to the IRS), then your parents should also create an FSA ID at this time.
Step 4. Gather your financial info
The FAFSA forms ask for a lot of financial information. Gather everything you need before you log in. This will make it easier and save time once you sit down in front of your computer. Here’s what you will need:
- Driver’s license number (not required if you do not have a license)
- Social Security Number (SSN) (Or, non U.S. citizens only: your Alien Registration Number)
- Federal tax returns, W-2 information, 1040 forms, and any other records of income received
- Records of untaxed income (for example, child support received or veterans’ non-educational benefits)
- Bank statements
- All the above information for your parents (if they are claiming you as a dependent on their taxes)
- A list of schools where you have applied
Step 5. Watch free FAFSA tutorials and get other online help
If you are having trouble with the FAFSA, don’t give up. There are many free online resources to help you. This video tutorial gives you an easy step-by-step guide. In addition, there are written instructions on Filling Out the FAFSA, which offer explanations for each section of the application.
Step 6. Triple check your work before you submit it
Make sure you read over all your information before you submit the application. Look for typos and any other errors. Even small mistakes could slow down the process. Read 7 FAFSA Mistakes to Avoid to get an idea of the common mistakes that people make. Once you are sure everything is correct, submit the application.
Step 7. Wait for the Student Aid Report (SAR)
In about three weeks, the Federal government will send you a Student Aid Report. This is not the amount of money you will receive. It’s just a document that the schools will use to determine if they can offer you an aid package. When you receive this report, make sure the information is correct. If there are any mistakes or if anything has changed, you will need to make corrections to your SAR. If everything is correct, then you do not have to do anything more at this time.
Step 8. Wait for the schools to contact you
The next step is simply to wait. The schools will receive your SAR and determine what, if anything, they can offer you by way of financial aid. Once you hear back from your schools, you can determine which package is best and weigh the other factors you are considering.
A few tips and reminders:
- The FAFSA process is completely free at https://fafsa.gov/. There are scam websites that try to charge you to submit similar forms. Make sure you are on the correct website, and don’t fall for any scams!
- If a school offers you a financial aid package, be sure that you understand the offer completely. For example, you should know that you will be required to repay any loans, so you want to be sure that you don’t borrow more than you will be able to repay. You do not need to repay grants, on the other hand, but those are harder to get.
- The rule of thumb on school loans is that your monthly loan payments after graduation should not exceed 10% of your expected (pretax) monthly income.
- To get a better understanding of school loans, watch the Types of Student Aid video.
This guide was provided by the Salter School. Located in Fall River and Malden, Massachusetts, our schools provide career-focused training for Medical Assistants, Massage Therapists, and Health Claims Specialists (medical billing and coding specialists). Contact us online to learn more about your career options at the Salter School.